“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” says Psalm 111:10. In other words, we have to recognize His authority and take Him seriously. Yet there is also an unhealthy fear that creates distance, and that is what we need to avoid.
“Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:17–18
These are three ways that you might be afraid of God judging you: worrying that you cannot be saved, worrying that you will lose your salvation, or worrying that God is hard to please in this life.
1. Fear of being unforgivable
The Bible promises that anyone who wants to be saved can be saved (Romans 10:13; Revelation 22:17). So logically, the only people who won’t be saved are the ones who would never come to Jesus, including those who have become 100% hardened (John 5:40; 2 Thessalonians 2:12).
You don’t have to worry about a partially hardened heart, because actually that is the normal state of anyone before salvation. Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
Is the unpardonable sin possible today? A case can be made for it not being possible today, but we don’t have to know the answer as long as we know the other truth, that anyone who wants to be saved through Jesus can be saved. There is a 100% solid offer of salvation in Revelation 22:17:
“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that hears say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whoever will [desires], let him take the water of life freely.”
Romans 10:13 is a similar promise: “whoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
You might be thinking, “But that doesn’t apply to everyone, because some are unforgivable.” That type of reasoning makes God’s promises unstable, yet there is no contradiction in the other view; the people who are “unforgivable” are the ones who would never, ever, come to Jesus.
So how can people know when they’ve gone too far? They wouldn’t, because at that point they don’t have any interest in being saved through Jesus.
Therefore, anyone who wants to trust in Jesus can claim the promises of salvation.
Also see my article “Can I Be Forgiven?”
2. Fear of losing your salvation
This is my story. My purpose in writing about this is not to add to the debate of eternal security (and I have no interest in debating), but to offer hope to those who have trouble seeing God as a Father. This is for those who are caught in the rituals of obligation for their own salvation, and want to replace that life with an overflowing affection and motivation to seek God wholeheartedly.
For my first 10+ years of being saved, I believed in eternal security, then for 7 years I believed in loss of salvation, and then there came a distinct point when I had to go back to believing in eternal security.
Why did I change in the first place? It was when I thought carefully about 2 Peter 2:21 and came to the conclusion it must be about losing salvation. I felt peace and assumed it was from God. Later on, I also felt perfect peace when coming back to eternal security, so it’s not a sign that I was right the first time.
For those 7 years, I had a lot of head knowledge about God’s grace, but I couldn’t reconcile God’s grace (His work) and my works. I understood Ephesians 2:8–10 about God’s grace saving us, and working in us by His Spirit, but I also felt I had to hold up my end through effort. I believed in “initial salvation” by grace and then reaching “final salvation” (heaven) through a mix of grace and works, and it was confusing.
Although I wasn’t entirely living from obligation, it created a lot of instability in my relationship with God, and I did not see Him as a Father. I heard teachings that we have to fast (withhold food) in order to reach final salvation, and even though I didn’t believe the teachings wholeheartedly, it was a fear I had, and it sapped all my motivation.
There came a day when I reached a low point where I had a thought, “If I can’t please God with my best efforts, I don’t even want to pray.” But immediately that thought alarmed me so much that I knew I had to turn around. It was a red flag moment, since I had come to a point where I had no motivation to pray. In this epiphany, I thought back to the way I used to be years before. I used to read books by Andrew Murray, and loved growing closer to God. It was more pure. I realized I was better off back then, with plenty of motivation to serve God. Had the loss-of-salvation view changed my life for the better? Not that I could tell, because I was already obeying in the past. The only noticeable change was a feeling of distance and lack of motivation. So I had to go back, and did so fully for God (not for sin; there was no excuse).
In the days that followed, I saw an outpouring of God’s love with confirmations that I was walking with Him. It showed that He was at least not opposed to my change in beliefs.
What about Scripture? I don’t mean to make it sound like I was completely basing my decision on personal experience apart from the Bible; actually I was very well familiar with the verses on both sides, having been in Biblical churches, Christian schools, a Christian college (I have a B.A. in Bible), in addition to being immersed in other views from teachers online. Some support verses are strong points, and some are not, on both sides. I believe the strongest support in favor of God keeping our salvation is Ephesians 1:13–14; we are “sealed” with the “earnest” of our inheritance, which is the Holy Spirit.
3. Fear that God is hard to please
You might know for sure that you’ve been saved, and you might believe in eternal security, but you still feel distant from God because you think He is too hard to please in this life.
Not long after my experience (in point 2), I found that there are people who know they are saved and believe that God is keeping them saved, but they feel distant from Him in this life because they are afraid of judgment. It even led to one person giving up and backsliding. Later on, he repented and now tells how he was only serving in obligation because of fear-based teachings that made him think that he would only hear from God if he was doing something wrong. Now that he has turned from those teachings, he is grounded in God’s love for him, which motivates him enough to read through the Bible 4 times a year in addition to other Bible studies. He “can’t wait” for devotions every day.
It is true that God will discipline us if we disobey (Hebrews 12:5–11; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Corinthians 11:30–32).
Yet when God disciplines, it is in love for us! He actually does not like seeing us suffer the consequences of our sins; Lamentations 3:33 says, “Though He causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies. For He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.”
We see the same mix of judgment and compassion in Hosea 2:12,14 and Isaiah 30:18:
“And I will destroy her vines and her fig trees, whereof she hath said, These are my rewards that my lovers have given me: and I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field shall eat them. … Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her.”
“And therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him.”
Never forget God’s compassion when you think of Him disciplining you. He is helping you grow.
When we realize that God is love and He wants us to grow in love, we don’t have to worry that He is hard to please.
“My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:30
“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8